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Portraits of Long Islanders who call Hempstead home

Boys will be boys. Just ask Baitary Hernandez, whose boyfriend, Jose Castillo, didn’t rely on romance to let her know he liked her when they met about a year ago.
“He started calling me ugly,” recalled Hernandez, 20.
Castillo, 18, has gotten better at expressing his feelings, and the two are now a couple.
Newsday met the lovebirds in Hempstead village, where they reside along with more than 50,000 other residents in the most populous village in New York State. The residents we met aspire to fame and fortune, peace, prosperity and a place to call home. They represent the innocent and the guilty in courts of law; they work to make a better life for themselves and their children; and dream of becoming doctors or hairstylists to the stars.
In its 3.7 square miles, Hempstead village is home to Hofstra University;  Long Island’s first African-American mayor (James Garner, a Republican who served from 1989 to 2005) and village justice (Cynthia Diaz-Wilson); the namesake of Hempstead Turnpike; and the first school in the nation named after President Barack Obama. (The former Ludlum Elementary School was officially renamed in 2009.)
It’s where immigrants come to live the American dream and where citizens seek common ground. “
U.S. is the land of opportunity; if you want to do something, you can really do it,” said Shiv Swarnakar, who said he was a doctor in his native Nepal. “My dream is to be able to practice here in the U.S.”
Margaret Brumfield, 48, is another newcomer, arriving from Atlanta a few months ago. “I like it here, I’ve met a lot of new people,” she said.
Let us introduce you to her and her fellow Hempstead villagers.
  — Tracy M. Brown, LI Life editor

Margaret Brumfield, 48
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Margaret Brumfield, 48
“I just moved from Atlanta a couple of months ago. The block has a lot of things going on; I’ve never seen so many video cameras around. I was having a hard time in Atlanta, and my sister told me to come up here and we will work something out. I like it here. I’ve met a lot of new people and I’m just rolling with the punches. My sister knows everybody around here so they give me respect; that’s how they do in the ’hood. Me being white, being here has been an experience for me. They give me looks and stuff, like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’ But once they get to know me it’s like family. I’ve had a lot of struggles in my life — I raised three children of my own and raised my next-door neighbor’s son. His mom went into rehab and never came to get him; she did stay in his life, though. My dream is just to be able to spend time with my family, my grandkids and my kids, and be healthy. I’m a simple person. You know all the gold, jewelry and all those things that will bring trouble to you, I know better. I’m not a materialistic person, just being with my family and making memories, that’s what will make me happy.”

Wainette George, 22
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Wainette George, 22
“I live every day like it is my last. I work two retail jobs and also dance on the side. I want to be a doctor, I want to help people. Dancing is helping achieve that dream; it pays the bills. I took dancing in school, I went to performing arts, I took ballet. Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves. I’m always dancing, since I was a little kid. I’m West Indian, so you know West Indians are always dancing; it’s in their culture. My mom came from Guyana and worked really hard. She taught me how to work hard and not rely on anybody. She taught me how to work hard for my dreams.”

Freddy Contreras, 34
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Freddy Contreras, 34
“Poverty gives you courage. My uncle taught me how to cut hair at the age of 13, and at 19, I left my country to try to give my family a future. I have worked very hard, and after many odd jobs I began working at different barbershops where I began to believe I could build my own business. In 2006, I asked a friend if he was interested in partnering with me and opening our own barbershop, and for the past 10 years I can tell you that I made my dreams come true. I’ve provided a comfortable living for my loved ones, and I don’t need much more to be happy.”

Baitary Hernandez, 20, and boyfriend Jose Castillo, 18Baitary:
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Baitary Hernandez, 20, and boyfriend Jose Castillo, 18
Baitary: “We met in school about a year ago. We were taking the same classes, became friends and he started calling me ‘ugly,’ and he ended up falling in love with the ‘ugly.’ We were friends for about a year before he gathered up the courage to tell me he liked me, then it took us about a week to finally kiss for the first time. He is a bit difficult, and it bothers me that he doesn’t like to dance, but I love that I can always rely on him. He always keeps his promises.”
Jose: “She didn’t like me in the beginning, she said I wore my pants very low. I used to call her ‘ugly,’ but it was because I liked her. She used to get so mad. She knew I was having some difficulty with schoolwork, so she started sitting next to me and helping me.”

Anthony Mascolo, 36
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Anthony Mascolo, 36
“I mainly do criminal law here [Nassau County District Court]. Every day it’s a different day. I love helping people. Sometimes I hate the judges, but sometimes I love them too. Every day requires something different of you, but it feels great when you help someone who might have made a mistake. You help them correct that mistake and get them on the right path. You also hate it when you get stuck with somebody you can’t stand, but you gotta help them anyway. You go to law school and they teach you stuff, but they don’t teach you how to practice law. You have to learn the game. Your first day out you gotta figure out what you’re doing, and it takes you years. Even now, 10 years later, you still make mistakes and still feel uncertain about certain things. It’s always a challenge.”

Mercedez Velasquez, 38
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Mercedez Velasquez, 38
“I love New York. I went to Miami for vacation [earlier this summer] and didn’t like it at all. You need a car to go everywhere. It’s easier to get around here in New York. Hempstead is home, I feel so good here. I’ve never been mistreated here. I felt a bit discriminated against in Miami; I felt like people were giving me strange looks like I didn’t belong there. My kids and I couldn’t wait to come back. There’s such a big mix of people here, but we all get along. We help each other out, we struggle, but we struggle together.”

Anthony McCoy, 62
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Anthony McCoy, 62
“I was in a bad relationship, an abusive relationship. I lost everything. I’ve been homeless for the last three months. I go to church on Sundays and pray that God will get me off the streets. I haven’t been able to shower for a couple of days, and that’s not me; anybody who knows me will tell you that’s not me. I’m starting to feel invisible.”

Holly Cruger, 20
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Holly Cruger, 20
“A few months ago, I thought a lot about legacy and just, like, what is going to be my impact in the world, how am I going to be remembered after, like, about a hundred years? Will I even be remembered? My biggest fear is to not make a difference, and that really freaks me out. I’m working on it right now, but if I really think about it, I just want to be remembered as someone who is kind, or at least tried to be.”

Shiv Swarnakar
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Keira Marrimon, 35
“My biggest struggle is to keep my ambition. I have a 2-year-old and I’m up at 6 a.m. every day to go to work and then [cosmetology] school. I don’t get back until 2 a.m. I want to be a famous hairstylist. I like to make people look pretty and make people happy. Some people say beauty is on the inside, but you know, sometimes people want to see it on the outside. The struggle is only temporary, all you got to do is get through it. You’re gonna see me, mark my words. I’m gonna be famous one day. I’m going to be a famous hairstylist; remember me.”

Nytara Macklin, 42, with son Sha-Leq Seaven Devine
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Shiv Swarnakar
“I came from Nepal 10 years ago. Nepal is a very poor country, but I’m highly educated. I was very lucky to get a visa. The U.S. is the land of opportunity; if you want to do something, you can really do it. I’m a doctor back in Nepal, and my dream is to be able to practice here in the U.S. I’m going to school at night, working to support myself, save some money and in a couple of months take the tests to get licensed here. I want to be a surgeon.” 

Mike Johnson, 27
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Nytara Macklin, 42, with son Sha-Leq Seaven Devine Lucas, 6 months
“I had to separate from my children’s father. I was going through a lot of emotional stuff, and I feel so free right now. I just feel so much better now, even though I have to see him because he lives on the same block as me. There was a lot of tension and stress, but now I feel better. No more drama in my life. Like [R&B singer] Mary J. Blige, I’m at peace now. Sometimes you just got to get rid of bad habits. Sometimes you try to hold on to things that God is trying to tear from us. We just got to let go and let God.”

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